Rural Ottawa Deserves Better From The City

By David Brown, Rideau-Jock Councillor

By now, many readers are aware that Ottawa is hosting a rural summit this year. As I have written about frequently, it is an opportunity for rural residents to have their voices heard on the issues that matter most to them. It is also chance for rural Ottawa to strike a better deal with the urban areas of the City.

It’s about time if you ask me. For too long, our communities have been unable to have our priorities reflected adequately around the Council table.

At the core of this issue is how rural affairs is structured and what authorities are granted to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC). In my view, many of the issues that our communities grapple with – including truck traffic in Manotick, speeding in villages, poor infrastructure, a lack of access to services, and more – all stem from this common set of governance challenges.

When it comes to ARAC, at present, the Committee does not have much authority on its own. Our meetings tend to be quite short because issues that we discuss are items that require common sense and are rarely contentious. However, matters that are extremely important to rural Ottawa are often decided upon by other Committees or Council as a whole. There are only 5 rural Councillors; this often means that rural interests are effectively sidelined in favour of urban priorities.

Despite rural Ottawa representing 10 percent of Ottawa’s population and 80 percent of its geography, ARAC only gets to deliberate on a paltry sum of money; only about $10 million went through ARAC for approval in the 2024 Budget. By way of comparison, the City’s overall budget was around $5 billion. With so little authority over how our tax dollars get spent, it’s no wonder why the City’s decisions often do not reflect our priorities.

The second issue is that “rural affairs” is not a priority within the City’s organizational hierarchy. If you looked at a City organizational chart, the group that primarily deals with rural affairs is neither a department nor a directorate. It is merely a team – a small part of the City’s structure, buried underneath a broader economic development portfolio, and with little say in the overall structure of the City.

Civil servants who handle rural files across the full spectrum of municipal authority are rarely centralized in the City; they are spread across departments where their managers are unlikely to intimately appreciate rural considerations and interests. The City governs for the 90 percent of residents who are urban, and by consequence, the 10 percent of residents who are rural are often left behind.

The issue is not the intelligent, dedicated, and hardworking public servants, it is a structure that they operate under that simply does not get things done. Fixing that structure is therefore crucial.

I am currently developing a proposal that would fix that structure, centralizing more of rural authority under a dedicated team at the City and providing ARAC with greater authority over the matters that are within rural jurisdiction. It is my belief that through the rural summit, we can make meaningful progress on these important files.

I have been greatly encouraged by working with the Mayor and his office on these concerns. He shares our view that rural Ottawa deserves its place as a distinct part of the municipality, and he fully understands that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution that works for Ottawa. Mayor Sutcliffe is a champion of rural Ottawa, both in public and in private, and I am confident that he takes these long-standing governance challenges seriously.

I know that it might not be exciting to read about the idiosyncrasies of municipal governance. But it is nonetheless vital. If we want to fix issues in a structural fashion so that we may address the challenges that have plagued our communities for years with far too little progress being made, then we must attack these problems at their common root: a system of governance that does not work.

What we need to go back to is that “small town efficiency” that existed before we became part of the big city.

I would encourage residents to stay tuned to the Rural Summit engagement process by going to and signing up for updates. You can also share your thoughts on your priorities for rural Ottawa directly by emailing